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Category Archives: Asia

Turnip Cake (Azuki Cooking Series #5)

Turnip cake, 蘿蔔糕 lo pak go, is one of my favorite dishes for Chinese New Year. True, you can eat it year round, and many restaurants offer them as dim sum, but for me it’s the childhood memories of new year. Of my mom making them a few days before the new year, of eating the steamy cake straight off the stove, of visiting relatives and being served it, of adults comparing notes of who makes it best (so-and-so’s is too hard, so-and-so’s falls apart…)

I enjoy making turnip cake. I got this recipe from my mom, and is probably the closest thing to a heirloom recipe I own. My husband loves it so much, he doesn’t even order turnip cake at restaurants anymore (my recipe uses a lot more turnip, while the restaurant version is usually mostly flour.) This year I gave some to my boss, whose parents are from Taiwan, and he reported that they said it was the best ever turnip cake they ever had.

So, I decide I should post my recipe here, for posterity.

Like most of my recipes, I do not use exact measurement.

First, the ingredients. Traditionally, dried mushrooms, dried shrimps, dried scallops and dried sausages are used. Some also used dried pork belly. Vegetarian version calls for veg ham, mushrooms and carrot, but it’s not common. Here’s a recipe. As my hubby refuses to eat the veg version I make mine with the traditional ingredients.

You can easily get these at most Chinese grocery stores. If you can’t get the real thing use ham. For the more health conscious there are sausages with chicken meat or less fatty cuts. Soak dried shiitake mushrooms, scallops and shrimps. The mushrooms and shrimps usually require just an hour to a few hours of soaking, depending on size, but the scallops need overnight. When soft, chop them up into small cubes. Shred the dried scallops.

ingredients

sausage

mushroom

scallop

Stir fry the ingredients in a wok. Season with soy sauce, cooking wine, salt and sugar.

scallop

Next, the daikon turnips. I use about 5 lbs for a 2.5 quart Corning casserole dish. Wash, chop off ends, peel, and cut into big chunks.

daikon

daikon

While my grandma used to shred her turnips by hand, my mom and I benefit from modern technology. A food processor helps make this a breeze…

daikon

Gently squeeze the juice out of the turnip, set aside a bowl-ful of juice. Add the turnip shreds to a wok and stir fry. Add a little white pepper. I also add two chicken or vegetable bullions for flavor.

daikon

When turnip is cooked and turns a yellowish shade, add in the mushrooms, suasages, etc. Mix in well.

daikon

Now the flour. I use half cornstarch, half rice flour, with liquid from the turnip or the water soaking the mushroom. Please note that the rice flour I use is 粘米粉, milled from long grain rice. It’s different from 糯米粉, made from the short grain sweet/sticky/glutinous rice. 糯米粉, or mochiko in Japanese, is used to make the chewy, sticky, stretchy stuff in mochi, dango, niango, rice dumplings, and all that delicious stuff. Anyway, for the flour, more rice flour will make the cake firmer and more cornstarch will make a softer cake that falls apart easier. Half and half is about right. I usually use one cup of each, mixed into a thick yet pour-able paste.

I put the stir fried mix of turnip shreds and mixings into a corning ware, or any deep baking pan you may use. I pour the flour paste in and stir. Depending on how moist your stir fried mix is, you may end up needing more or less flour paste. Generally, I will stir in enough so that the turnip shreds are like orange peels in a marmalade. If you prefer a cake with less turnip and more flour, you can make more paste and stir it in. But don’t just add water as the cake will become too soft.

lo pak go

Now your cake is ready to be steamed. You will need a big wok, or a very deep pot (like a dutch oven or a soup pot) with a steamer rack like this:

Fill the pot with water just below the rack, and when water boils, put your baking pan in, cover the pot with lid, and steam on high heat for 45 min to an hour.

To test, insert a chopstick into the cake.  If it comes out clean the cake is cooked.

Sprinkle sesame seeds and cilantro on top.  Put the lid back on for 10 sec so the cilantro “cooks” into the cake.

lopakgo

I love eating fresh lo pak go. It will be on the soft side, very delicious with a little sirracha and oyster sauce.

The popular way to serve turnip cake is to pan fry it.  Just cut into half inch slices and pan fry, then add hot sauce, soy sauce or oyster sauce to taste.  I’ve known people who dip them in sugar too… If the cake turns out softer than you’d like, a trick is to let the cake sit slightly uncovered in the refrigerator, so it dries out somewhat. For my Corning pan, I just use two chopsticks to lift the lid a bit higher.

Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Asia, Cooking

 

Achoo!!

I am trying to pick up a few Korean phrases to use, and find this page quite useful:

http://www.linguanaut.com/english_korean.htm

When I scroll down the list, I chuckle when I read this line:

Bless you (when sneezing) (No reaction, as if nothing happened)

This has happened many times when my husband sneezes. Not only does he sneeze a lot, he is a chain sneezer.  When he sneezes in public places, my Asian friends and I will totally ignore him and carry on our conversations or whatever we are doing, but people around us (like people sitting at the next tables in a restaurant) will come forth with a generous outpour of “Bless You”, as if to compensate for our lack of sympathy.  Sometimes it makes me feel cold hearted, as if I won’t care less if he sneezes his brain out.  Nonetheless it has yet to become a reflex for me to say Bless You whenever I hear a sneeze, so my belated and weak response feels more like coming out of guilt than a genuine concern.   

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Asia

 

BookCrossing Gathering in Hong Kong

Sorry this post is a few months late, but back on March 20, 2010 I was in Hong Kong to meet with some BookCrossers. We met at a restaurant called Brunch Club & Supper, which serves an American menu, with salad, egg benedicts, crepes, sandwiches, appertizers, coffee and the like. It was a nice meetup, with several oldtimers (azuki, ktp28 and wandering-B) since the first Hong Kong meetup (about three years ago?), and a few new faces (criminologeek, penejoe and yukihosnow). Watakeet, who was the first HK BCer I met, was unfortunately not available but was 100% there in spirit. : ) Nice chat, lots of good books piled on the table, Wandering-B brought some book thongs and Azuki some labels, so everybody went home happy.

What’s more, we found that Brunch Club has two big mahogany bookshelves. (Is that mahogany? I have no clue, just some very awesome looking wooden bookshelves.) They are full of books, mostly English titles, as this is likely a place favorited by exprats longing for the taste of home. We spoke with the manager, explained what BookCrossing is, and with her blessing the shelves are now an Official BookCrossing Zone!!!

There’s well over a hundred titles on the shelves. We put some of our books on the shelf, and needless to say, my resolution of not taking books home totally crumbled. I haven’t visited many OBCZs, but I’d proudly say that this is probably among the biggest and best OBCZs. Oh how I wish I have an OBCZ closer to home! If I were to live in Hong Kong, I’d totally haunt that place.

So now Hong Kong has its first OBCZ, and a very nice one at that. Please come by for a visit when you have the opportunity!

Brunch Club is located at:
1st Floor, 13 Leighton Road
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Tel: 2890-2125
http://www.brunch-club.org

The restaurant is an easy walking distance from the Causeway Bay MTR (subway) station.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2010 in Asia, Books & Movies, Friends & Family, Travel

 

Tomato Asian Rice Noodles (Azuki’s Cooking Series #4)

When I showed this picture on the camera to my husband, he thought it was tuna. So maybe I can name this vegetarian tuna noodle?

Anyway, it was just something I cooked up one afternoon with what I can rummage in my fridge. I have a bit of Thai basil left so I made a Vietnamese-inspired pho-style noodle dish. You can use the rice vermicelli instead and make it a “bun” style dish instead, which is great for summer. Slices of tofu can be added too. Whatever you have in the fridge!!

1. Cook and drain Vietnamese flat rice noodle (I am still trying to find a good brand, so let me know if you have recommendation).
2. While noodle is cooking, cut tomato into chunks, slice onion, wash spinach.
3. Heat oil in a pan. I found some lemongrass and Thai basil in my fridge so I add them to the pan and stir fry a bit for the fragrance to come out.
4. Next saute onion. Then add tomato and spinach.
5. Use a saucepan to prepare broth. I use vegetable soup base. A mushroom based boullion works great. Another one I found recently and really like is Edward & Sons. (http://www.edwardandsons.com/es_shop_bouillon.itml) The vegetable stock I find in the U.S. are often flavored with celery, parsley and the like, and often doesn’t work well with Asian dishes. The ones in oriental grocery stores are usually made with mushroom and kombu, but while the flavor works, they often have MSG and other additives.
6. Put noodles in a bowl, arrange vegetables on top.
7. Slice some garlic and fried till crispy. Put on top.
8. Crush some peanuts with mortar and pestle, sprinkle on top.
9. Add hot broth to the noodle. Ready to serve.
(10. You can add a little fish sauce for seasoning if you’re not vegetarian.)

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2010 in Asia, Cooking, Food

 

Korean Lettuce Salad (Azuki’s Cooking Series #3)

I got a nice pack of lettuce from Costco, and after a few days of salads, and then wraps, I crave for something different.   Something a little oriental.  I suddently remember the lettuce salad that I eat at Korean restaurants.  It comes with the grilled beef bulgogi, and it’s so delicious that I am quite contend to eat it wih my rice and leave the meat to the guys. 

A search on google yields mostly recipes for Korean lettuce wrap with beef, but I manage to find what I want.

For the dressing, mince some garlic and green onion.  Remember that you are using the garlic raw, which is a lot more pungent and spicy, so go easy on it.  A clove or two should be plenty.  Add to it a tablespoon each of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil to taste.  Add red pepper powder as well, if preferred.  I modified the recipe by adding some minced ginger and miso. 

Then chop up some lettuce, toss with dressing and sprinkle with sesame.  It’s simple but addictively delicious.  The flavor is on the strong side as the salad is not to be eaten on its own as an appertizer, but served along with other dishes to go with rice.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Asia, Cooking, Food, Vegetarianism

 

Say No to Shark Fin Soup

The ecological disaster of shark killing for their fins is nothing new, but recently there is a reflamed discussion in Hong Kong, stirred up by a video and the subsequent news report.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELtgIhD-4yk and  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5hA00VZooc&NR=1)  A group of young divers from Hong Kong went to The Philippines for a vacation, and witnessed a young whale shark dying on the beach, its fins cut off and its body covered with knife wounds.   The young woman, still choked with tears as she recalled the scene, pleaded people not to eat shark fin soup.  While the fact that Chinese’s demand for shark fins is the reason for many shark species’ near-extinction and a very cruel practice (the equivalent of chopping all limbs off a person and leaving him to die), the highly emotional eye witness account generate much attention and discussions among the public.

Picture

A facebook group has started a pledge to Say No to Shark Fin Soup.  As a major consumption of the soup happens during banquets, there is a movement to ask people, especially newly weds, not to serve shark fin soup.  As a matter of fact, WWF has a list of organizations who have pledged not to serve shark fin at their company events, and the list includes The University of Hong Kong, Disney and  HSBC.

When I read the news, my reaction was, “Finally!”  Generally speaking, Hong Kong people do not have a strong sense of environmental protection, especially when it comes to what not to eat.  I can understand how, a long time ago, some fishermen caught a shark, and tried their very best to turn all body parts into edible food, a feat that Chinese is likely to have bragging rights to.  I don’t think there is any nation who consume a bigger variety of animal parts.  Anyway, for those who haven’t tried it, shark fin is basically a bland food that takes days and lots of work to make edible, and the flavor of the soup is derived from the chicken, ham, abalone and other ingredients stewed with the shark fin.  I can imagine how, with more primitive fishing boats and tools, it is a hard ingredient to come by and thus made it a  delicacy afordable only to the rich, giving the dish a prestiguous statue. 

Today shark fin is no longer a by product of a caught fish. As a  merchandise fetching up to 500 times more than the meat itself, the fishermen started to cut the fins off the fish and, not bothering with processing the meat or wasting cargo space, throw the dying fish back into the ocean.  As humans becoming a much more capable killer of sharks than the other way around, the shark population is being depleted faster than the slow growing fish can reproduce.  Add to that the increased affluence of China, and sharks are in serious trouble.  As the proven scientific fact shows that shark fin has little nutritional value and lots of mercury and heavy metal,  there is really no argument to continue eating shark fin.  (Well, actually on surfing the web, I came across an argument: if we stop eating shark fin, we will put those fishermen out of work.  To which I would reply, yeah, just so Afghan poppy growers can bring food to their kids, go get some opium.) 

Hong Kong is the epicenter of shark fin trade, importing close t 10,000 metric tons of shark fins a year.  Some comments claim that whatever decreased consumption this recent publicity may generate is hardly a drop in the bucket compares to the consumption in China.  Nonetheless, I feel very positive.  All great movements start with a very small group, but that small, seemingly insignificant effort is a pebble that can generate lots of waves.  In fact, my research has led me to another news article.  The Sakanaga kaitenzushi chain in Hong Kong recently won a bid for a tail of blue fin tuna, a fish which is near extinction.  As the news made headline in newspapers, environmental groups voiced their protests, and a boycott was started.  Granted, the number of people signing the boycott are likely less than what the chain’s customers number in one day, but it is an encouraging move nonetheless.  While a lot of news have portrayed China as a country with little environmental concern or consumer awareness, when I read blogs and forum posts online, I often find educated, forward-thinking posters who are eager to make their country and the world a better place.  I sincerely wish that everybody in the world will take a clearer look at his/her food and makes a more conscientious food choice.  I believe that one day eating shark fin soup will looked upon in the same way as wearing fur.    Our best effort to promote awareness is needed, however, before it’s too late.

Here are some more links about the topic. 

http://www.tinykylie.com/forum/viewthread.php?tid=3841&extra=page%3D1
http://fijisharkdiving.blogspot.com/2010/02/certified-shark-fin-soup.html
http://apps.wwf.org.hk/seafood/eng/sharkfin/index.php

You can also sign a Care2 petition at:
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/11/save-the-sharks
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/7/stop-shark-fin-and-fin-products-for-sale-in-san-francisco
http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Shark-Conservation-and-Protection

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2010 in Animals, Asia, Food, Vegetarianism

 

Mame Shiba

Just discovered a series of cute commercials from Japan called Mameshiba.  The name means trivia knowledge and each episode features a very adorable bean or pea with puppy face: green pea, peanut, natto, edamame, coffee bean, jelly beans…  As the person is about to eat the bean/pea, the cute face pops up and disclose a trivia knowledge, totally ruining the eater’s appetite.  Facts like, did you know that a squid has three hearts?  Or that a flamingo’s milk is pink?  Or when you kiss millions of bateria are transferred between mouths?  Or that a koala’s appendix is two meters long.   Some unappertizing fact best discussed at another time, and the fact that your food starts talking to you… is enough t turn any face blue. 

This version here has been subtitled, and you can find more related videos on the side bar. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QpRBkhipQOs

So very charming.  I was even considering getting a little edamame shiba cellphone charm.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2009 in Anime/Manga/Toy, Asia